Remembering George Southwell of Main Street, the king of band music

The Southwell Building at 3935-41 Main Street.

The Southwell Building at 3935-41 Main Street in 1940.

The Southwell Building, an art deco masterpiece at 3941 Main and home to Harlings, takes its name from a family that made its mark on Midtown – and across the country.

Little remembered today, George Southwell was a composer of band music played in bandstands in small towns across the country, the Kansas City Star wrote in 1920.

Kansas City has a firm which has probably done as much to encourage and build up the village ‘band concert night’ as any single agent in the United States. That is George Southwell Publishing Co., 17 East Thirty-ninth street. George Southwell’s band music is known wherever a cornet tooteth or a trombone slideth. George Southwell is dead now but his music lives. Charles Southwell is manager of the company which takes care of the business George Southwell built.

George Southwell, years ago in Wellington, Kansas, conceived of the idea of writing music for amateur band and providing lessons whereby its members might improve their abilities. He wrote “The First Grade Band Book,” lessons for beginners, and two or three tuneful but fairly easy marches and overtures, and he found they sold rapidly.  He graduated from Wellington to Kansas City in 1891, and founded the music publishing house here which can point to orders it has sent to every civilized country on the globe – and some not so civilized.

The building at 17 East 39th Street in 1940 no longer exists.

The building at 17 East 39th Street in 1940 no longer exists.

In fact, Charles Southwell told the Star that missionaries always took band instruments when they set out to “civilize the heathen,” and once the band was formed, they sent back to Kansas City for music.  Southwell also sold lots of music to England, Scotland, Ireland, China and New Zealand, as well as France, Finland, Sweden, Norway, Mexico and India.

The Star called the Southwell plant an unpretentious one-story brick building at the corner of Thirty-ninth and Walnut. Inside it was filled with sheet music with printing presses in the rear.

The Southwell family lived just across 39th Street at 3842 Walnut. In 1916, Mrs. Josephine Southwell sold the home to make room for a two-story brick business block. By this time, Main Street was quickly transforming into one of Kansas City’s major commercial streets.

In 1930, Gail Southwell invested in the Southwell Building, described in the historic district application for the South Side historic district as one of the most distinctive buildings on Main Street.  This two story art deco commercial building was designed by McKecknie and Trask architects. “A white terra cotta banding at the roofline is broken by funnel-shaped lights of polychrome terra cotta, throwing light down on the sidewalk.”

As part of our Uncovering History Project, the Midtown KC Post is taking a look at the 1940 tax assessment photos of each block in Midtown.

Would you like us to focus on your block next week? Send us an email.

 Our new book, Kansas City’s Historic Midtown Neighborhoods, is available now. Let us know if you want us to come to your neighborhood association or organization’s meeting to share what we’ve learned about Midtown neighborhood history and tell your members how they can help preserve Midtown history. Order the book 

A 1909-1950 Sanborn Fire Insurance map of the area.

A 1909-1950 Sanborn Fire Insurance map of the area.


  1. Don Bradley says:

    Back in 1944 I played a George Southwell trombone solo with my high school band (Southside HS, Rockville Centre, NY). At the time I was in my sophomore year. The title of the selection was “Execution”.

    I am 94 years old now and am still able to play sections of the piece although I do not still have a copy of the music. Playing that selection at our annual Spring Concert surely planted the seed toward my becoming a successful professional musician and school band director.

    Is there , by any chance, a copy of that piece still available? I would dearly love to have it and be able to play it again.

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